Can Rajon Rondo earn Chris Paul-level respect next season?
We’ve discussed just about every aspect of Boston’s star point guard over this summer of change in the Celtics organization: How he’ll react to playing with lesser teammates, a new coach and a repaired ACL.
So, here I’d like to get a little deeper and more personal. For Rondo to redefine himself among his NBA brethren and fans alike, he’ll have to look inward to first realize a few things.
Rondo’s hard-headedness might not be something that goes away with age, experience or maturity.
The model in New England sports is Paul Pierce, whose attitude, ego and nightlife got him into a fair amount of trouble during his youthful days with Boston. However, the Celtics’ future captain was eventually appeased with big star-powered trades and became the leader we all know and respect today.
Finding out if Rondo has that ability to transform himself will be Boston’s brass’ main goal for the next two seasons. The maximum contract extension is looming after that, and they’ll only extend the offer to a player who has the ability to lead this franchise into the next era of success.
This upcoming transition season is more than an opportunity to redefine Rondo’s stardom. It is also an audition for him to stay in Boston beyond 2015.
There are some important non-basketball aspects to pay attention to at this juncture in Rondo’s career and life.
As No. 9 becomes a kind of guiding figure within his green world, for young players like Kelly Olynyk, Avery Bradley and Jared Sullinger, his life outside basketball is becoming a mirror. Rajon’s daughter, Ryelle, will turn six next February.
She is entering the ages where children start becoming intuitive and memories begin to take hold. She’ll be in kindergarten or first grade, where she may come across kids wearing a Rajon Rondo jersey to class.
Back in 2009, The Boston Globe’s Shira Springer wrote a lengthy feature on Rondo. In it, they briefly touched on his father. The older Mr. Rondo left his family when the future Celtic was just seven years old. Ryelle will be approaching a very emotional age for Rajon, and one that could and should help his maturity.
Going to school the day after your father blew up and got into a fight on national television won’t be an easy thing. How Rondo acts next season will begin reflecting on his family more and more. What reflects on them will also be reflecting on his work family.
Rondo has always proven a love for children. He runs basketball camps over the summer across the globe. When he left Team USA, or opted not to even tryout, Rondo spent time teaching the game to kids.
Beyond the aspect of maturity, this season offers Rondo more of a spotlight on his game. With Pierce, Kevin Garnett and Jason Terry out of sight and out of mind, more shots will be available. Nearly 35 field-goal attempts per night have opened up in Boston. The team will be looking to make up 43.5 points per game, from a league-average offense.
In today’s NBA, shots mean respect on good and bad teams alike. Kobe Bryant and Carmelo Anthony averaged more than 20 attempts per game for good teams. Rondo should also be looking at Kyrie Irving and Monta Ellis, who averaged more than 17 shots for the sub-.500 Cleveland Cavaliers and Milwaukee Bucks.
Rondo averaged 12.2 attempts through 38 games last season. That figure would place him tied for 16th in the league among point guards. However, only six players ahead and the two he tied with were members of winning teams in 2012-13.
Those attempts should see considerable increase next year, allowing Rondo the opportunity, but not guaranteeing the ability, to score with the likes of Damian Lillard, Brandon Jennings and maybe even Irving.
Among NBA point guards, there is stiff competition rising up through the league. All entrants into the top categories have their positives and negatives.
Chris Paul has the most talent, but little playoff success. Russell Westbrook is the most athletic and breath-taking, but makes poor decisions sometimes. Stephen Curry has the best range and stroke, but has battled ankle issues and a semi-poor distributing reputation. Irving, John Wall and perhaps even Derrick Rose are young and can’t stay on the floor.
What will prove that Rondo has redefined his stardom?
Deron Williams has killed more coaches than anyone, and Tony Parker passed the 30-year plateau a fair amount of time ago. Then, of course, there is Rondo; the league’s best distributor, but with questionable range and possibly the shortest fuse at the position.
This is an elite group of point guards, and a more specific and centralized brotherhood than NBA players in general. Rondo often reps out as being someone who doesn’t care about other players or what they think. He cut himself from Team USA in 2010 after receiving a DNP-Coach’s Decision and falling behind Rose and Westbrook on the depth chart.
Each one of these players can claim to be No. 1. No matter where you rank them in personal debates with co-workers and friends, none are perfect. However, being excluded due to age, injury, number of assists or a lack of quality teammates is a different story.
No one wants to be left out because of an attitude problem, short temper or deficiency in the sport’s main objective (putting a ball in a hoop).
Rondo can compare himself to these players all he wants, but until he redefines his spot in that group to fans, colleagues and himself, his star will continue to shine a bit dimmer than it could.
The upcoming season is a chance for us to see Rondo in a new role, but it is also a chance for him to look in the mirror and see the same strengths and flaws we do.
Recognition is the first step to change.